Film Micrœview #78: Godzilla (2014)
05.23.2014 § Leave a comment
Here’s what happened. I was supposed to see this with a friend. But then I got laid off. So then I decided to hold off until I found a new job and reward myself by seeing Godzilla then. But then I saw a new trailer which gave extended looks at the creatures… and it didn’t look nearly as good as the split-second glimpses had made them look. So finally when I got drunk I couldn’t help myself and just got it out of the way.
The SFX were bad. Not horrible, but definitely not good. Compare with the dragon who played Smaug in The Hobbit — not only is he a real dragon, he is also a fantastic actor! I just don’t see how in this day and age CG teams can’t get two fundamentals through their heads: physics and atmospherics. I’ll even set aside my minor gripes about texture (that part, honestly, is just embarrassing, though, since they’re leathery-reptilian, no hair… should have been easy! Okay… I guess I didn’t really set this one aside). But seriously, Hollywood, if Godzilla is building-sized, then when you look up at him, it should seem like there is a large amount of air occupying the space between you and his face. And when you’re that big, mass and air dynamics work in such a way that no matter how strong your muscles are, the heaviness and drag of things makes motion look different. They didn’t get these things right. I saw this movie mostly for the SFX.
However, I was also intrigued by the message of the film. I guess I’ve started watching films with two minds at once: in terms of what I myself am getting out of it, and in terms of my concerns over the impact it will have on its general audience. My hope was that Godzilla could be a vehicle to push environmental activism subconsciously on a wide viewership. That is, the vibe I was picking up from the trailer was that while in the 50’s it was more in vogue to worry about man destroying nature, that is a dangerous mentality today — dangerous, anyway, for us — since the reality is the other way around: that man can only test nature so far and for so long until nature destroys us. In other words, I expected to get a movie with a traditional “All is Lost” moment, when all attempts for man to assert himself over these avatars of nature’s wrath failed.
Instead I got a movie where, sure, our attempts to nuke Godzilla in the 50’s failed, yet we have a bomb now whose size makes the old ones look like “firecrackers” (and yet, assuming that such a bomb was developed at some time between 1954 and 2014, at no point did we ever decide to finish the job?). The only reason we don’t nuke him now is $$$: being frugal, we’re going to try to get three monsters for the price of one, by letting the two MUTOs meet in San Francisco, then luring them both out to sea with Godzilla in pursuit. In other words, I guess the nuke is slightly more expensive than San Francisco? So what’s at stake here is not the entire planet, just the difference in cost between a nuke and a city? I mean, maybe I got that wrong, but shouldn’t monster movies not be confusing?
In any case, Godzilla gets made out to be a hero at the end. Is he a hero? He wasn’t saving us, was he? Wasn’t he just hungry? He’s described as an “apex predator”, and we get glimpses into the reproductive cycle of the MUTOs. This idea that there is a mega-ecosystem overlaid over man’s puny footprint on Earth might have been more plausible if there was a Mrs. Godzilla, maybe, or if there were a bunch of MUTOs. I mean, I guess predators the size of buildings maybe can’t stalk their prey in the same way lions or great whites can, so it makes a bit more sense how out-in-the-open and intermittent the activity is on this. But they didn’t even show him eating the MUTOs. So, I mean, which was it? Is he an angel or an animal?
The movie felt like it was missing an entire episode. I say this not only because several trailers clearly showed daytime shots of Godzilla. It’s just that there was really only one battle in the whole damn two hours. The Honolulu combat was seen through grainy news footage on a crappy hospital TV. Way too early on, battlecruisers were right up next to Godzilla like he was a friend. There was no dramatic arc to that relationship. I think a few guys fired guns at him and that was it. Godzilla never smacked down an army. We needed that for Watanabe’s line “let them fight” to hit home.
Speaking of Watanabe, all he did was stagger around looking astounded the whole time. They would have been better off killing him in the first five minutes like they did Binoche. Why the hell was she even in this? I feel tricked!
I don’t feel like I even need to get into the human drama aspect of the film. But I will anyway. I thought that given this big of a budget, Edwards could afford to save himself from bad writing. I was wrong. Somehow he managed to insert the exact same vacuum where drama should have been that was there in his film Monsters. Actually this might even be worse, because he started telling a story at the beginning, which could indeed have been sad and complex, but then just killed the dad off, and nothing was made of it. Nothing about parallels between the main character’s relationship with his dad and his relationship with his son, or his dad’s relationship with his mom to his relationship with his wife. The crazed conspiracy theorist may have well been anyone — it meant nothing that it was his father! I will never, ever, ever again watch this movie because it was just too fucking boring. I have no connection to any of these people yet am forced to watch them just exist pointlessly for most of the screen time.
So the least they could have done is been imaginative with the action sequences. Nope. Think back on classic monster films. The bread and butter of them is striking, unforgettably epic moments. I felt like when the burning train came out of the smoke that I was supposed to think “ah ha, I’m a memorable moment” but… no. This could have been dovetailed with the realistic approach they were supposed to be taking here. I’d like to see a shot of, say, the water dripping off Godzilla as he steps out of the ocean. I just came up with that. That’s an awesome example of something you might not think about but when Godzilla really happens it would happen and you’d be like “oh shit, this is really happening.” Come on guys.
And I didn’t even think they got that realistic thing down. I was all excited that this movie was going to capture borderline doc style what it would be like if this actually happened on earth. That we’d experience most of the action from the human perspective. Maybe not taken to the literal extreme as in Cloverfield, but still. No, they didn’t really even do that. One of my favorite shots from the trailer of Godzilla’s head looming way high up as tiny little human sized doors shut as if to keep him out wasn’t in the movie. Sad.
They didn’t even get the structure of the movie right. I was excited to read that the filmmakers exercised restraint by not revealing Godzilla until the hour mark, harkening back to the genius pacing of Jurassic Park, building up the anticipation (and the polar opposite of Pacific Rim, ugh). However, this effort was completely undermined by having the MUTOs plastered all over the screen from maybe the half-hour mark on. And those guys were way less creative and epic. They got like 10 times more screen time all told than Godzilla himself. He was like a tertiary character.
There was no link between the human story and the monster story. Nothing thematically shared between them. Sure maybe that’s part of it being realistic rather than symbolic. But then what’s the fucking point of having characters at all. Spare me them. There’s one moment at the end when the guy sets off a gas explosion which distracts the MUTOs for a moment, apparently saving Godzilla’s life and allowing him to reposition for ultimate victory, as well as killing the MUTO offspring. So in the end, again, it’s a fucking man who saves the day, not Godzilla. What the fuck is this movie. Better than 1998’s Godzilla? Maybe. But still a piece of crap.